Canada’s premiers have reached a deal on the long-awaited Canadian Energy Strategy that officials describe as aspirational. It sets no Canada-wide hard targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions but provides a roadmap for expansion of pipelines and the country’s energy industry.
Provincial officials told The Globe and Mail on background that each province has its own climate change plan and GHG emission reduction targets – and the strategy is not meant to supercede those.
The premiers are meeting in St. John’s for their annual summer conference and had come to this year’s meeting vowing to release the strategy, which has been in the works for three years.
One senior British Columbia official told The Globe that the document will say that provinces “should all strive to move toward a lower carbon economy” and “here are some options for pricing carbon and ways of getting there.”
At the same time, he said, it acknowledges that Canada has an abundance of energy resources that should be developed safely. At the same time, there should not be onerous regulations so that projects get held up.
The strategy is expected to be released later Friday.
Quebec and Ontario had wanted to see the strategy – first proposed by former Alberta Premier Alison Redford – balanced between expansion of the industry, such as pipelines, and environmental issues. Ms. Redford’s vision focused more on pipeline expansion than climate change concerns.
According to officials, that balance has been achieved. Premiers were reviewing the strategy Friday morning after their officials had tweaked it overnight. “We have a path to pursue two critical national priorities – how are we going to keep building our energy industry and how are we going to address climate change?” said one senior Alberta official about the deal.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall came to the conference upset with the draft document that he had seen. He expressed his concerns that the strategy did not recognize the importance of the oil and gas industry to Canada’s economy and was tilted too much toward addressing climate change issues, which could have put up roadblocks to pipeline expansion, for example.
Insiders say that Mr. Wall received no support from other premiers for his strong views; Friday morning he met with reporters and had significantly toned down his rhetoric. He repeated that “oil is not a four-letter word” and described the discussion around the table as “vigorous.”
“There are some things that I was hoping to see in the energy strategy to a greater extent than perhaps it existed,” he said. “One of them is around energy independence. That speaks to the fact that, right now, even though Canada is home to the third greatest oil reserves on the planet, we import oil because we are not able to move it across the country, which just seems dumb.”
“We need to have that reference on transportation and talk about energy and self-sufficiency,” he said.
He said he was hoping the document would reflect that – refusing to say exactly what was in it.
The Alberta official, meanwhile, said that the strategy now gives provinces certainty as to how energy will move across the country and what needs to be addressed on the environment side.
He described the previous landscape as like playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” “You never knew when something new was going to come up and you never knew when the agenda was going to shift,” he said.
He noted that this deal was reached without any input from the federal government; Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to meet with the premiers as a group, preferring to do one-on-one deals.
Alberta, he said, was not looking for less regulation for pipelines. Rather, it wanted to know what it needed to comply with to move forward as access to more markets is critical as Canada basically has one customer – the U.S.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, who ironically had refused to sign on to the strategy in 2012 over a dispute with former Premier Redford, was helpful in bringing together the premiers.
Ms. Clark noted that there was an agreement around the table between the majority of premiers and urged them to get on with it.